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The MVP Inventory: Simplify Decision-Making with a Vision

This is essential to managing and growing a brand… John is the solo host of this episode focused on the MVP Inventory System. MVP stands for “Mission, Vision, Principles” — concepts that are essential to managing and growing a successful brand. In this episode, John shares how we’re applying these concepts at Smart Marketer, how the MVP inventory can be used in decision-making, and the mindful effort being put into keeping them intact during the day-to-day grind. You’ll also learn how larger companies approach these topics, including the questions you should ask to figure out your own MVP Inventory System.

You’ll Learn:

  • What the MVP Inventory System is
  • Why the MVP system is more strategic than it might sound
  • How Smart Marketer implements the MVP concepts
  • How to establish your own MVP system

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0:31 What’s the “why?” of your business?

1:23 Thank you Dr. Shigeaki for this amazing quote.

2:56 How do the larger scale companies do it?

4:06 What is the MVP Inventory System?

5:51 Here’s how this system can be applied in day-to-day settings.

8:42 Defining your business will attract the right people to you.

10:22 How Ezra created an open and understanding culture at work.

12:40 Our Mission — Who we’re looking to serve at Smart Marketer.

13:24 Our Vision — How we see ourselves providing value to our community.

15:46 Our Principles — The business belief system we stand on.

20:35 Here’s what John recommends doing to better understand your MVPs.

23:39 Thanks for listening! To share your feedback or get a question answered on the podcast, follow and message Molly on Instagram at @mollypittmandigital.

Transcript Of Episode 43:

0:00 John: The scale of your vision should dictate the scale of your business or the scale of your life. So, being able to draw a bigger vision will give you more drive, more energy, more focus, and more desire to go out and do more. So, creating a big audacious vision is a core part of having a big impact in the world.

0:31 Hello, and welcome to episode 43 of “The Smart Marketer Podcast.” I’m your host, John Grimshaw. And today, I’m really excited about what we’re going to be talking about. So, often on this podcast, we dive into the tactical side of things, which I love as much as anybody. I am all about tactics. But sometimes it’s important to step back and think a little bit about what comes behind that, right? Think about the why of your business. The why of your customers. The why of why you’re doing this. And so, that’s what we’re going to talk about today. I’ll introduce you to the MVP inventory, a system to think about what matters in your business and how to make decisions. I’ll talk about why this actually matters, right? This isn’t just some silly thing to do to impress investors, right? This is strategic. And I’ll talk to you about what Smart Marketer’s MVP is and how we got there. So, without further ado, let’s dive in and get started.

1:23 So, the content for today’s episode stems from an offsite that Molly, Ezra, and I did in April for Smart Marketer. We wanted to meet up and really sketch out what the plan was for the company for the next 18 months. And if you know anything about me, you know I love planning. So I went super deep. I put together this whole document talking about what it was that we were going to discuss. But I also often live on the tactical side of things, which there’s nothing wrong with, right? You got to have tactics to get things done. But when I went into this meeting, I decided I wanted to really start with the why both for myself, when I was putting this doc together, and with Molly and Ezra. Before we started talking about what products we wanted to build, what hires we needed to make in the year, what we wanted to do with our website redesign that we’re working on right now. I wanted to sit back and think about why are we doing all this? So, I had this quote that I really like as kind of the anchor point. It’s from Dr. Shigeaki Hinohara. He says, “Draw a circle so huge that there is no way we can finish it while we are alive. All we see is an arch, the rest is beyond our vision, but it is there in the distance.”

And I think that large-scale thinking and really drawing a circle, right, drawing a vision of what it is you want your work today to be building towards in the future is critical. It is motivating, it is empowering, and it is helpful for weighing choices against when you’re trying to decide if you should pursue an opportunity or make a big change, you need to check against your vision.

2:56 So, as part of this, I kind of went through and thought about how larger-scale companies do this? And I looked at a bunch of pitch stacks. I looked at a bunch of websites for some of the largest companies, and really sat down and thought about it. What is the why behind business? And I came up with what I called the MVP inventory, right? Mission, vision, principles. I didn’t really invent this concept, but I just kind of codified it and came up with why I think this is worth doing for smaller businesses, medium-sized businesses, even for individuals, right?I think this is a helpful exercise for a person to go through in their own life. I think so many people think of having a mission or having a vision is something that you need if you’re going to be pitching to investors, right? Or maybe as something where you hit some magical size in your business and say like, “Okay, I think we’re a big kid company now. So we probably need one of these things.” But I don’t think that’s really the best way to go about choosing what your mission, your vision, and your principles are. You need these from the start because they help you make decisions from day one at a company, not day 10,000. So, let me tell you what the MVP inventory consists of. And then we’ll talk about why this is so important for you to do from day one.

4:06 So, a mission details the what, the who, and the how behind all the work you do in your business. You’re determining with this who you’re going to serve, what you’re going to serve them with, what products you’re going to make, what services you’re going to offer, what lessons you’re going to teach, and the means by which you do this. It’s really helpful to just sit down and distill what your company does into one or two simple sentences. Because it’s so easy for us in the hustle grind culture to jump on every opportunity that pops up, but it doesn’t actually serve you or your business to jump on every opportunity, right?

You want to know what you’re doing because when you know what you’re doing, you also know what you are not doing. And you can determine whether or not something falls outside of the scope of your company’s mission. Mission is really about the day-to-day. Vision, on the other hand, is about looking forward, looking ahead to the future. It’s about where you want the business to go. It’s about where you want to be in 5 years or 10 years. What is this circle that you’re drawing? Finally, you have your principles, which are essentially your core values. And what’s so important about these is they help you make decisions. But they don’t just help you make decisions, they help you make the correct decision every time. When you’re trying to decide if an opportunity is worth pursuing, if you want to solve a product problem, or you have some challenge with personnel, you need to weigh your options against the principles that you decided on for your business. And if one of the solutions does not align with your principles, you can immediately eliminate that from the list.

It’s a really helpful exercise to figure out, hey, this doesn’t align with who I am here to be. This doesn’t align with the people that we want to serve. This doesn’t align with the philosophy that we have about helping our employees. This is where it starts to get actionable, right?

5:51 So, we know what our MVP is, right? It’s this mission, this vision, these principles that we are going to use to guide our company. Well, how do you use them day to day? Well, this is a very useful tool for communicating with your team. Whether you have 1 employee or 1,000 employees, it’s incredibly useful to be able to say, “This is what we believe.” Those people make decisions every day that you don’t have a chance to weigh in on. And that is by design, right? If you had to sign off on everything in the business, you would never really be able to scale past 10 or 15 people. But once you start to bring in team members, bring in people to help you grow, you step further and further away from every day-to-day action, every day-to-day decision that gets made. Having a set of values that your team can look to and weigh those choices against that are important, but aren’t so important that you need to make them will help you create consistency in what you’re doing for your customers and in what you’re doing with your products and in your marketing and in every part of your business all day long. Very, very helpful.
It also helps them get invested. One of my core beliefs, I suppose, one of my principles is the idea that you need to get people invested in the mission of your business. There is no better way to get people to want to work hard, want to produce great outcomes for your customers than to get people to buy into the mission. I know this because I have been that employee who has bought into the mission many times, right? When I worked at DigitalMarketer, I really bought into the mission, right? We wanted to double the size of 10,000 businesses. I thought that was a great idea. And it pushed me to work hard, to take on new opportunities, and try to fill gaps where I thought they existed. When I did client work, same thing. I really only wanted to work with clients where I believed in the mission of what they were doing because it helped me go the extra mile. It helped me try to push myself and to think harder about what would really help them grow, right? Once I got my feet under me, I had the luxury of deciding to not work with businesses where I didn’t really buy into the mission because I knew I wouldn’t be able to do my best work.
And I encouraged businesses that didn’t have a mission to put one together. And, of course, at Smart Marketer, Ezra had a very, very strong mission to start with, which we have refined, which we’ll talk about in just a second, but having that good core foundation is how that business has been able to exist and grow. It’s been around for nine years, pretty hard to believe, but Smart Marketer was founded in 2012. So, I already kind of touched on this. I won’t belabor the point, but when you’re struggling with the decision because there’s too many good options or it feels like there’s no good options, either way, being able to refer back to your MVP inventory is a great solution. You can sort of say, “I have too many options. How do I know which one’s the right one?” Well, we can easily eliminate a few of them because they don’t align with our MVP inventory. Or perhaps you’re feeling stuck. If you go back and think about what it is you’re there to do, your ability to produce positive outcomes is going to significantly improve.

8:42 Now, this is not a negative story, but I thought it was a good illustration. I read this interview with Seth Farbman, who was a former seat CMO of Spotify. And he said, when he started the company, his number one goal was to go back and understand why the business got started. And what he honed in on was this idea that it was created by music lovers for music lovers. So, under his tenure, Spotify invested a lot of time and money and energy in creating these feedback loops to help users on the platform feel like they were discovering new music or rewarding them or praising them or giving them positive feedback when they did so. He basically helped to transform Spotify into a platform for discovery rather than just one to play music. And you can see it in the results, right? Over the time that he was there, they added something close to 100 million subscribers and twice as many users, right? So that includes people that are free users. But a lot of that is because he focused in on this core principle, which made it easy for them to make decisions that would grow the business because they were all motivated by this core concept.

It’s also helpful for customers. One of the most important things we can do today in business is to create a strong sense of who the business is, which will then attract the right people to that business. I think that’s something that Ezra has done very, very well for Smart Marketers. He has made it clear who Smart Marketer is, right? We’re very driven by people, which you’ll see reflected in our MVP answers. And that has, in turn, brought a lot of businesses into the Smart Marketer fold who know that the best way to get work done and the best way to do meaningful work is to make it all about the people you serve and make it all about the people you work with.

10:22 And then last, one of the most important times you can have a clear mission, vision, and principles is in a time of transition, whether that’s a change in leadership like we went through here at Smart Marketer, right? One of the reasons that it was so easy for Molly and I to come in and take over running the company day to day is because as Ezra did such a good job of making the principles behind the company clear, and also transitioning things like how you’re marketing, what’s your marketing?

We’re redoing the Smart Marketer website right now. And we are shifting away from pure e-commerce focus and our messaging and everything because we serve a larger audience now, right? We are opening it up, right? We’re making it less of an Ezra Firestone teaches e-commerce business and more of a our faculty teaches you how to grow your business with people digitally. So, really helpful for us to have this new mission, vision, and principles defined and outlined when we’re deciding what kind of messaging do we want on the site? How do we want to frame what it is we’re doing and who we’re serving? And I know because I’m very excited about the initial designs that it has helped a ton in making the new site look really awesome. Hopefully, that’ll be out later this summer. I’m very excited. So that’s why this is useful. That’s ultimately what we’re driving towards here, right? When you know what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and the way in which you want to do it, suddenly the ability to know what the next right step is is so clear and obvious.

So, I kind of talked about the big principle ideas behind this, but what are we doing at Smart Marketer? It’s helpful to see this actually in action. So, like I said, we went up to New York for this on-site. It was really fun. I know Molly did an episode a few weeks ago that I think she might’ve done while we were actually there, if you want more context on how that meeting went. But we started with who are we and what are we trying to do, right? Of course, I had my own opinions coming into it, but it really was a discussion. It was a great time to sit down and talk about what it is we want to do and who we wanted to be. When you’re doing this with your partner, when you’re doing this with your business partner or your business partners, you need to make it communal, making a unilateral decision will be like a unicycle, right? It can be toppled very easily. So, we had a great conversation and this is what we came out with.

12:40 So, our mission, right? The what, the who, and the how behind our work, we teach small to medium businesses to leverage their agility and grow profitably with empowered people.

We work with businesses of all sizes, but I have found we have the most impact and can really make the most difference when we’re working with people between 1 and 1,000 employees. I think that’s where Smart Marketer is best leverage. And one of the key ways we do this is we empower people, right? That’s why we have these new lines of trainings, our mentorships like Train My Traffic Person that are all about helping business owners empower their team members, training them up with skillsets so that they can take ownership, parts of a business, pull that weight off of the business owners brain and set them up for success. So that is critical to what we’re doing here.

13:24 Our vision, what we want to do is to support the growth of SMBs to foster environments where meaningful work is balanced with personal fulfillment. I think this one is particularly important, of course. We talked about these a lot and I do think they’re all important, but one of the key parts of this is this idea of work-life balance. And it’s one of those easy buzzwords that is very, very hard for most people to fulfill.

When you try to separate work and life and then maintain balance, it’s almost impossible. Work and life have to serve each other. And I think we can have the most impact at work when we can show up as whole people. And we have the most satisfaction in life when we’re working on projects and working for businesses that have meaningful missions to us. This is a very natural vision for Smart Marketer to have, because Ezra has always done such a good job of weaving in with the tactical stuff the lifestyle things. The idea about serving customers. And we do a lot to take care of the people at our business and to take care of our customers as best we can. Also, I really think that these small and medium businesses are one of the most powerful conduits for intertwining social impact or communal impact and finding balance. I’ve worked with hundreds of companies as an educator, and I really think that small businesses are the most powerful conduit for putting this balance at the forefront in the business. In a mature small business or mature medium business, people aren’t just cogs, right? They’re not just filling a role. Everyone is a builder. Everyone has some degree of ownership. And founders are as much employees as anything else.

So, everyone is empowered and everyone is invested. And I think small businesses are really good vehicles for promoting healthy economies and healthy communities. Just like in nature, having a diverse ecosystem is generally healthier, right? It’s more able to weather big changes, right, big shifts, big problems, big weather events. Business is kind of the same way. A diverse ecosystem comprised of a lot of small businesses is going to be more resilient and more self-regulating than an imbalanced ecosystem that just has a few dominant leaders. And so, I think the vision of trying to support the growth of these small and medium businesses is the best way to pursue this idea of work-life balance, where work and life each serve the other.

15:46 And then last, we have our principles. Last in the list, not in importance, right? Principles may be the most important day-to-day because this is where you come when you’re trying to make a decision, you check against it. So, one of the most famous ones that you all have definitely heard before, serve the world unselfishly and profit.

I don’t think I could ever do it the justice Ezra does every time he talks about it. But the idea is within business, as long as you focus on service and know that you’re creating good stuff, profit will naturally follow. We also have people over progress. When we make decisions day-to-day, we want to think about how they impact the people, the customers that we’re serving, and we want to think about how the people who work with us, employees and team members can help implement that. And if we find that we need to push a product launch deadline or we need to update a product, because it’s a little out of date, we make sure we make that decision rather than continuing to promote something that we don’t feel like is as good as it can be. We innovate in the face of change. This one is super important for our industry, in particular, because things change so often. New platforms changes to how the platforms work. I was 14.5, right? You know, I’d sneak that in here somehow. Those things happen all the time. We’re in a constant state of flux and instead of being scared of change, we choose to innovate, embrace the change, and see this as an opportunity.

Another principle, transparency is our most powerful tool. We really want to show people what worked in our business, but just as much, we want to show you what didn’t work. We have tons of content walking through how we tried to implement this idea. We had some problems. It didn’t work for this reason or that reason. And how we turned it around, right? How we took a failure and turned it into a success which leads naturally to our next principle, mastering the art of being okay with failure. Learning how to fail successfully is what I would say is often the difference between a business that succeeds and a business that fails. And that’s funny, right? Because the businesses that succeed are the ones that get really good at failing. But it’s because it takes a lot of testing and experimentation and willingness to try stuff in order to figure out what actually works. If you’re unwilling to try things out, if you’re unwilling to make an effort, if you’re unwilling to take a risk, you are unlikely to ever succeed. But when you take risks, there’s a chance you’re going to fail. You have to learn how to be okay with that failure and how to look through it to find the lesson that comes away from it, right?

Okay. We failed. But we learned we can never do XYZ thing again. There’s a quote from Sara Blakely that I won’t get exactly right, but she basically says that every day at dinner, her dad said, “How did you fail the day?” And it taught her to embrace and not be afraid of failure, not to treat it as something to be ashamed of, but as something to talk about and think through and discuss to find the nuggets of opportunity and wisdom in there that you can take to the next thing you try. And these kind of flow like water at the end here. The last one, learn like a curious scientist. This one is a personal favorite of mine because we do so much testing in this work, right? Learning how to figure out what the perfect email is, what the perfect Facebook ad is, what the perfect social media post is. None of that can come from down on high, right? We have to find this ourselves through experimentation and testing and exploration. In business, when we learn to ask questions about our outcomes and then answer them with data, we unlock endlessly replenishing opportunities for growth. That is what you get when you embrace that scientist mentality.
So, that’s kind of where we ended up at our C-level meeting and it was a really fun exercise to go through all that. And it really helped us figure out what we wanted to do with our products in the next 18-month. We’re not done honing this. Of course, there’s still more to come. And our next step is actually, we want to go to our team, right? We want to get internal buy-in on this. So, we’ll be surveying Smart Marketer team members asking them what they think the mission, the vision, and the principles behind Smart Marketer are. We’ll bring all of this together, kind of finalize it, get it totally hashed out, and then put it on our website, right? We’ll share it with everyone. And we will use it every day when we make decisions. So that’s kind of where we are with Smart Marketer’s mission, vision, and principles, right? The MVP inventory. Hopefully, I have inspired or at least made you curious about making one in your business. It’s not all that hard, but this is definitely something where I recommend taking a little bit of time. I spent about four hours just sitting down, reading through old articles from Ezra, looking at Slack conversations Ezra, Molly, and I have had, thinking about what customers were saying was helpful to them, what they were saying they needed more of. It’s not something you can just dash out because you’re trying to hit the deadline, right?

20:35 So, I recommend you block out a nice chunk of time and just sit down and try to answer a few questions. What is it that we do best? Who is it that we do this for? And then how do we serve those people with what we do? So, how do those three, the what, the who, and the how interlock and interrelate? Once you know that, what is the natural outcome, right? What is the logical end game if you’re able to do your mission perfectly for a couple of years? Start to draw that circle. Where do you want this to go? What are the values you want to represent for your customers? And then principles, this is probably the hardest one because there’s going to be more and more that come up. So, I would just write down as many things as you can for this and go through a week, right? Spend a week of your life looking at a list of 20 or 30 principles. Think about which ones you stop to consider whenever you’re trying to make a decision. This will help you hone in and figure out which principles sound good, but you don’t really practice them. And which principles you are already using.

You may notice one or two that you don’t use it all that you think are the most important. Well, that’s a sign that it’s time for you to start checking against those principles whenever you’re making a decision. And, of course, the last step is you want to get feedback and buy-in. If you’re doing this for yourself, I still think it’s a helpful practice to talk to your partner and talk to a friend, say, hey, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. What is the why behind me getting out of bed every day? What is the why behind the decision to go work for this company, the decision to start this company, or to work with this particular organization? You know, get some feedback from someone you trust. It doesn’t mean you need to change your mission, your vision, your principles to fit theirs, but making this a conversation is a really helpful way to round it out. And other people will notice things you haven’t, right? When I initially did the principles, the art of failure wasn’t one that I’ve included in my list. Not that it wasn’t something I valued, but I didn’t think about how important it was. And I’m really glad that Ezra and Molly brought that one to me. The same with the transparency and the innovation one, right?

These were all things that I lived and I did believe, but having them talk with me about it and really saying, “Hey, I think this is one of our core principles.” I said, “Yeah, you’re totally right. I just didn’t think about it.” So, make it a conversation. I really think this exercise can be a game-changer in your business. Understanding the why behind what you do is foundational. And it’ll make making decisions so much easier. Being able to draw a bigger vision will give you more drive, more energy, more focus, and more desire to go out and do more. So, creating a big audacious vision is a core part of having a big impact in the world. I’d love to hear what are your visions? What are your missions? I want to hear from you, how are you applying this in your business? What have you seen when you’ve gone through and done this exercise? I would absolutely love to hear from every single one of you listening what your MVP inventory is? Feel free to hit me up on Instagram. Send me a message at Smart Marketer. And tell me about the circle that you want to draw. So, thanks for listening.

23:39 Molly: Thank you so much for listening to this episode of “The Smart Marketer Podcast.” For any resources mentioned on the show today, please visit our show notes at If you enjoyed this episode, please leave us an honest review on whichever platform you are listening. Thanks again, and we’ll see you next time.

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